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Boosting Viral Surveillance

The US is moving to increase its ability to track SARS-CoV-2 alterations with viral sequencing, the Financial Times reports.

It notes the UK — which identified a new strain last month that is thought to be more transmissible — has tracked mutations within about 9 percent of tests, while the US has lagged, sequencing about 0.3 percent of samples. FT notes that the UK provided funding, about £20 million, for viral genomic surveillance early in the pandemic, which it recently extended.

Since the identification of the B.1.1.7 strain, FT reports that the US is working with Illumina, Helix, and LabCorp to bolster viral sequencing capacity. Francis deSouza, the CEO of Illumina, tells FT that better infrastructure is needed. "We're in a foot race now between these emerging [more] transmissible strains and the vaccine rollout," he adds there. Other new strains have been identified in South Africa, Brazil and now, California.

According to FT, Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council who is also part of the COVID-19 Advisory Board to now-President Joe Biden, says the group has recommended that the new administration focus on genomic surveillance.